Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

I recently preached in our church's main services on Jesus's statements on hungering and thirsting for righteousness as part of a series on The Beatitudes. I shared about the kingdom of God and the desires of our hearts. You can listen to the sermon hereHere's an outline of the content (minus a few stories, examples, and some Scripture references):

The question: what will satisfy the deepest desires of your heart?

In this series on the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, we have to be clear about Jesus is really saying (and not saying). The Beatitudes are about:
  • Good news, not good advice.
  • Reality, not morality.
  • Being, not doing.
Jesus is not giving us a to-do list of how to get into the kingdom of God. Nor is he offering a moral code, as if we are to try harder to be meek, mournful, poor, and righteous. When Jesus comes and says that these kinds of people--meek, poor, mournful, etc.--are blessed, he’s proclaiming very good news! Not good advice. Not another moral teaching. It’s not about doing more for Jesus; it’s about being in his presence and his kingdom. He’s claiming that reality itself has changed, so we should live like it, not the other way around—if we work hard enough as moral people, maybe we can change the reality of our situation.  No, he’s saying he’s already transformed it, and the kingdom is available to those in relationship with him.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Hunger and thirst connote desire, longing, craving. There is a dissatisfaction and emptiness that is waiting to be fulfilled. There are two typical spiritual responses to desire: to suppress it (ignore it, stuff it down, get rid of desire) or the succumb to it (hedonism, impulses, "I do what I want"). So here's a question for us:

What do you want?

When we are honest about our desires, when we expose our urges and affections and hearts to the light of Jesus, we find freedom. Honesty creates that context, releases us from shame, removes us from isolation, reminds us that our desires aren’t inherently bad—they are only an indication, a sign of deeper desires and longings, a desire for love and life and acceptance and grace. So when Jesus says “blessed are those who hunger and thirst,” he is acknowledging our human God-made ability to crave, to desire, to have affections and longings. The ability to desire is not inherently wrong or evil; it just depends on the object of our desires.

What is righteousness? In the Old Testament, the word "righteousness" is often a parallel to "justice." Righteousness, then, goes beyond being a morally good person: righteousness is the state of a person who is as they ought to be. It is being what God always intended. It’s going back to the Garden of Eden, before sin, living in the ideal reality. It is a relational term, meaning that this righteous person is in right relationship on four different levels: God, creation, humanity, and self

Righteousness is "right-us-ness." All relationships are as they ought to be. Jesus doesn't say "blessed are the righteous." There's no one righteous without the grace of Christ. Instead, he says that longing and burning with desire for things as they ought to be is the way of the kingdom.

Psalm 37:4: Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. If I just find delight in the Lord, He will give me what I want? Yes and no. No, God is not just some sort of divine candy dispenser—we put in our delight, push a button, and get what we want, like a new car, a paid-off mortgage, a fixed marriage, a healthy child. God is not a tool we can use. But, if this psalm is true, when we delight ourselves in the Lord alone—when we are honest about our desires, confess them, and hand them over to the Lord, when we are most satisfied with God, then He is faithful to redeem and restore and meet every need and desire.

C.S. Lewis: If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

You are hungry? Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” You are thirsty? Jesus says, “I have living water, and when you drink, you will never thirst again.” You are tired? Jesus says, “Come, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” You are lonely? “Jesus says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” You want to be loved? Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends.”

What will satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts? Only Jesus. 

How do we live this out? The kingdom of heaven is an acquired taste. Much like one's growth in the love of coffee, we begin to reject the spirituality of suppressing or succumbing to desire, and choose to daily submit our desires to Christ, confessing and trusting Him with our longings and affections. The kingdom is an acquired taste because it doesn’t necessarily feel natural or satisfying right away; it can be awkward or even painful to submit my desires to Christ and allow Him to reshape my heart and cravings. It’s acquired because it’s a gift given by God; I submit to Him, He transforms me over time. This is learning to move into a healthier and better tastes, becoming hungry for Jesus and His kingdom and His righteousness.

Communion: We are going to remember and celebrate the death of Jesus on the cross, the place where Jesus submitted his own desires and longings to the Father in order to fulfill one desire—that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5). As you approach the table today, to eat and drink and remember, recall one desire you may have. Good or bad, Godly or sinful—at the table, before the cross, would you submit that desire to Christ? It can be a simple prayer: Jesus, I want you. I offer my desires, good and bad, and ask you to shape them, transform them, make your desires my desires.

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